GLOBAL: The blood diamond is making a comeback

Panning for diamonds /IRIN

Reform of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) is becoming more urgent as controversy over Zimbabwe’s diamond sales pushes the international initiative designed to stem the flow of conflict diamonds towards paralysis.

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At the KPCS meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel, on 21-24 June, Zimbabwe dominated proceedings, and delegates were given a rude reminder of the growing disillusionment when diamond business magnate Martin Rapaport embarked on a three-day hunger strike to protest against “corrupt governments [that] have turned the KP on its head; instead of eliminating human rights violations the KP is legitimizing them”.

Eli Izhakoff, president of the World Diamond Council (WDC), acknowledged that decision-making by consensus had “played a role in maintaining the KP coalition, but it also has created a situation in which one participant has the power to block progress without even having to declare the reason for doing so”.

He suggested amending the decision-making process, and that a two-thirds or 75 percent majority might be “a viable solution”. The WDC also announced that an unprecedented mini-summit would be held at its July 2010 annual meeting in St Petersburg, Russia, to try to break the Zimbabwe impasse.

The KPCS, formed in 2002, meets twice a year, bringing together governments, the diamond industry and NGOs to police the trade in “blood diamonds”. Its 49 members represent 75 countries, covering about 99.8 percent of global production.

More than a year of wrangling over whether Zimbabwe has or has not met the scheme’s minimum requirements has produced deadlock rather than resolution, with attention focused on alleged human rights violations by the Zimbabwean army against civilians in the 66,000ha Marange diamond fields, said to be among the world’s richest.

Overhaul decision-making

Annie Dunnebacke, a campaigner for Global Witness, a UK-based NGO that was among the prime movers in the creation of the KPCS, told IRIN that civil society had been calling for reforms of the certification system, including an overhaul of the decision-making process.

She said the dangers of an outright majority vote could leave civil society “without a voice”, and that the organization would favour a “more flexible solution”, with the possible use of majority voting on specific issues such as non-compliance by members. “What we have now is block voting, and block voting leads to the lowest common denominator prevailing.”

Just before the Tel Aviv meeting, Global Witness released The Return of the Blood Diamond, a report on Zimbabwe’s diamond trade that called for the country’s suspension from the KPCS for at least six months “or until such time as the diamond sector is brought into line with KP minimum requirements.”

The report on human rights violations contradicted the portrait painted by Abbey Chikane, Zimbabwe’s KPCS monitor. His 25-page document, Second Fact Finding Mission Report, stated: “Zimbabwe has satisfied minimum requirements of the KPCS for the trade in rough diamonds” and should be permitted to export diamonds from Marange.

Chikane recommended a “gradual” demilitarization of the Marange diamond fields because an immediate withdrawal by the army and police could result in “illegal diggers” returning to the diamond fields.

An operation by Zimbabwe’s security forces to clear the Marange diamond fields of about 30,000 “illegal” miners allegedly saw hundreds of diggers killed, beaten and raped in November 2008.

One activist, who declined to be identified, told IRIN that Chikane’s report “shows he is not carrying out his impartial duties as he should”, referring to the apparently sympathetic treatment given to President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.

The Global Witness report commented: “The prevention of violence and abuses fuelled by the trade in rough diamonds is the underlying rationale for the KP’s existence and cannot simply be cast aside when this becomes politically inconvenient.”

Lack of transparency

A delegate at the Tel Aviv meeting, who declined to be named, told IRIN that Chikane’s report was presented as a fait accompli, and caused confusion among KPCS members.

Chikane’s report said the gradual demilitarization of the diamond fields should be accompanied by private investors taking control of the rich deposits near the Mozambique border, discovered in 2006.

The Global Witness report said the joint venture investor structure was opaque and lacked any transparency, and that the natural resources were unlikely to benefit Zimbabwe’s citizens if past practices were repeated.

Dominic Mubayiwa, CEO of the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation – the mining parastatal that held exclusive rights to Marange fields from 2006 to 2009, before joint ventures were introduced – told parliament in early 2010 that the company had not paid a dividend to the state for more than 20 years.

Global Witness said it had access to the notes of a closed meeting of a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee, in which Minister of Mines and Mining Development Obert Mpofu said he had “ignored the legal procedure in awarding the tenders” for the establishment of joint ventures in the Marange diamond fields.

Elly Harrowell, a Global Witness campaigner, said in a statement accompanying its report: “Now it turns out that the joint venture companies nominally brought in to improve conditions are directly linked to the ZANU-PF and military elite. Thanks to the impunity and violence in Zimbabwe, blood diamonds are back on the international market.”

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]